By Hans Weber and Pietro Andrea Podda

On the 6th September 2021, H.E. Roberto Alejandro Salafia , Ambassador of Argentina to the Czech Republic, has offered an interview to the Prague Forum.

Prague Forum: How long are you already posted in Prague, and where have you been posted before?

H.E. Salafia I have been in the Diplomatic Service for more than 30 years. I have been posted in Brasilia twice, Brasil is the main partner for Argentina. Then I have been posted in Washington DC and also in South Africa at the time of the Presidency of Mandela, whom I met personally as a young diplomat. My first appointment as an Ambassador is the current one in Prague and it is a great honour for me to serve as an Ambassador here. As for the very Embassy, the first Residence of Argentinian ambassadors in Prague has been in Barrandov, a villa expropriated to the Havel family. The villa has been returned to the family in the 90s and so the Residence of the Ambassador of Argentina moved. In 2019 ,as soon as I came, one of my responsibilities has been to find a new Residence . This is not an easy task, because of the current lack of offers in the city !

Prague Forum : Have you visited many parts of the Czech Republic, and what did you like most?

H.E. Salafia I have seen a lot , unfortunately and mea culpa I have not visited Ostrava yet. I also like driving without a precise aim , I admire all the fortresses and castles in this country. This year I have visited the UNESCO area of Mikulov, Lednice and Valtice, it was just a week before the tornado (which by the way did not really affect the area I have visited). I have enjoyed Znojmo as well. Unfortunately finding time for travelling is not easy because of a busy schedule in Prague. I have been able to visit the Lednice/Valtice area because I have been invited to a polo tournament. All Ambassadors try to combine their official duties with the possibility to visit new places.

Prague Forum: what are your favourite places in Prague ?

H.E. Salafia The combination between green areas and buildings. Stromovka, Letna, Petrin, the Zizkov Hills, Kampa allow you to combine the beauty of architecture and nature. I like how Praguese leave the city during the weekend and go to nature. It is good that, contrary to my Buenos Aires, reaching nature takes only a few minutes even from the center of Prague ! This is wonderful

Prague Forum : What opportunities does Argentina offer to Small and Medium Sized Companies ?

H.E. Salafia Czech companies see Latin America as a place which is far away, geographically and culturally. Argentina has a strong agricultural sectors and is rich in raw material. Our country is also endowed with a developed biotechnological sector and this offers many opportunities to foreign investors. A further sector of interest is the energy sector, I mean in particular solar and wind energies. Mining Treatment of Waters and Transport are also areas where Small and Medium Sized Enterprises could find opportunities. Treatment of waters is already an area where there are contacts with Czech companies

Prague Forum What are the main topics on the agenda in the relationships between Argentina and the Czech Republic ?

H.E. Salafia We have a diversified agenda spanning over many issues. An important issue is the Mercosur/EU agreement which has not been signed yet. Some European countries are afraid of EU opening its agricultural markets to Argentinian and Brasilian agricultural products. Argentinian products can be of quality and affordable for the EU and Czech market.

The cultural sector is very important as well and Czechs, who are educated, are ready to consume Argentinian movies, music and books. We have a program with our Argentinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Argentinian literature is translated in Czech. By the way, in October we will have the Argentinian Cinema Week at Luzerna. Music plays a role as well, because of the importance of Tango and Milonga. This year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of our composer Piazzolla and, while we have been ourselves at the Embassy preparing a celebration, we have been surprised in noticing that many Czech organisations were preparing their own specific event as well. It is impressive

Prague Forum Argentina, in the past, has been among the most developed and wealthiest countries in the world. Nonetheless, it has also knowns periods of economic instability. What is the situation at the moment?

H.E. Salafia We have been rich at the beginning of the last century. This happened because we could find our place where Argentina could provide agriculture products to a world, and the main market was Europe, where dearth of food was normal. The world has changed and Argentina is now trying to find its new space. Many countries are in the process of adaptation to the new challenges of the modern economy. Argentina has an advantage because of its large territory, its natural resources and the high level of education of its 45 millions of residents. Apart from its traditional advantage in the agricultural sector, Argentina could develop also high value added sector or maybe increasing the value added of its traditional products. There is a great debate going on about which sector should be given priority to relaunch the economy of Argentina

In general, all countries and all sectors need to respond to the new challenges , as for climate change and other ones. We, in Argentina, will need to decide which industry would get support . Then we will have to consider factors like the number of people employed in a sector and not just the pure efficiency in the sector, there is also politics involved. At the end, Argentina and other countries may not be able to have enough resources to support all the sectors in need

Prague Forum Argentina, maybe not everybody knows about it , has traditionally been ahead of scientific development. What is the state of scientific research and development at the moment ? Where are you strong ? Where could you do better?

H.E. Salafia Argentina is certainly ahead of scientific development. Especially in the medical field. We have received many immigrants from Europe , especially many scientists that came to our country . Physicians, phycists and chemistrians. We have been ahead of research in Latin America in the 50s. In some sectors we are still very much competitive. We have a company called INVAPwhich produces small reactors for nuclear energy. We produce radars for communication. Argentina is certainly a place where research in the field of bio-tech and of agricultural technologies have certainly been important and significant

Prague Forum: What is the position and role of Argentina in the development of cooperation of the various countries in Latin America ?

H.E. Salafia MERCOSUR was thought as a way to implement the process of economic integration, having the European Union as a model. It is a project that has the goal of reaching a free trade area in Latin America, however only four countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) are committed to form a common market.

Besides the economic field, the process of integration touches also different areas like for example the recognition of studying paths and certificates. The levels of economic development in Latin America are not uniform and we believe that we can do better if we stay together. Argentina, with its level of scientific development, can help the progress in the area.

Prague Forum An unconventional question : in the Fall we will experience the first anniversary of the death of a symbol of football. Tell us something about the emotions of Argentinians about Diego Armando Maradona. In particular: do the youngest generation know him ?

H.E. Salafia Of course the younger generation knows about Maradona, because he is part of the group of Argentinian myth like Evita, like Carlos Gardel and others. These persons became even more popular after their death and they are constantly present in the life of Argentina. Maradona is a symbol exactly like Argentinian beef, tango and the wine Malbec. The youngest have not experienced the period when he was playing for its various clubs. Maradona has faced a difficult life, from a poor and humble family and in just a few years he came almost to the status of a divinity. The youngest can see him as a person involved in not conventional situations, like fights in bars and so on. However, he has offered real moments of joy to Argentinians, of course the victory in the World Cup of 1986 in Mexico are part of the life and symbols of Argentinians and Argentina.

Prague Forum Argentina represents also an example of a melting pot. How does cohabitation among the various ethnicities work?

H.E. Salafia Most of our immigrants came from Europe and brought their education and skills to Argentina. We have also had immigrants from other Latin American countries that have also contributed to the creation of the configuration of our society. We are now receiving a lot of Venezuelans and Peruvians. Our society is quite open because it has always been used to receive immigrants. Of course, Latin American immigrants are facilitated by the common language and they can adapt themselves relatively easily. Our Society shows a good level of integration among the various groups of immigrants and is prepared to receive more. Surely, the common Latin American origin makes integration easier.

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